Disaster Recovery Distance – Gasoline and Hurricane Sandy

Almost one week after the hurricane Sandy disaster and this is the scene within at least a 50 mile radius north of Manhattan.  New Jersey which was hit harder is probably much worse considering gas rationing is now in effect.

December 2007 Posting

On December 19th, of 2007 InfoSecAlways posted a blog article on Disaster Recovery Alternate Site Distances.   In that posting was sited the recommended distance in preparing for a hurricane.  The external study suggested an 85 mile radius.  InfoSecAlways suggested increasing that distance to 210 miles.  If Sandy was only a category 1 hurricane and the Tri-state area is affected as far north as Bridgeport CT the 85 mile is absolutely not acceptable.  Even gas is hard to get within that 85 mile radius.

One item that was not discussed in the previous blog article was gasoline.  For the past 4 days now this is the same picture everywhere at least 50 miles north of Manhattan.  This station in particular has had a gas tank delivery every day for the past 3 days.  Each night the station runs out of gas late in the evening.  In New Jersey and Staten Island there are stories about gas being siphoned from tanks and generators being stolen.  The situation appears to get worse daily and the lines even longer.

A gasoline crisis affects both individuals and corporations.  Employees will not show up to work out of fear of theft or running out of gas.  This is especially true if they have power issues that require a generator.  Individuals will be forced to deal with personal items and work becomes secondary.   If a business operates as a supply chain, taxi, or delivery organization, which is dependent on transportation, it may be very difficult to operate due to lack of gas or increased traffic as a result of lines.

What to do?

Unfortunately gas is an absolute requirement for both individuals and corporations to operate effectively.  Individuals should know several different items that can help in the event of a disaster.

Siphoning gas is difficult on most new cars.  These cars contain a siphon screen that prevents hoses from going into the tank.  In dire situations removing the fuel filter allows access to the gas.  Remember lawn mowers and other house hold items may have gas if needed.

Generators and gas tanks will get stolen.  Staying is a disaster zone is not recommended even within a few days after the disaster.  Wait at the alternate location for several days until power is restored, supply chains can provide food, and any other immediate crisis has been resolved.

On the other hand corporations will need to provide an alternate means of connectivity for office and technology based jobs.  Use a good mobile provider that can bring a generator to the corporate office or enable the business to connect at a remote location.  Organizations like Agility Recovery are experts at providing these services and other mobile solutions.

Corporations that require gasoline to operate the business should have conducted the proper analysis and considered the supply of gasoline a mission critical process.  As a result these businesses must purchase a series of large tanks and should consider owning their own gas stations with back up supply chains in place.  These gas supply tanks and stations must be protected with the proper physical security mechanisms such as anti-siphon devices on tanks and secure fencing perimeters around the gas stations.

Recommended Distance

Gas is a critical resource and the effects during a hurricane can be substantial since it is required for heat, food, transportation, and much more.  Based on hurricane Sandy the distance required to provide a solid gasoline supply chain is around a 100 mile radius from the center point of the storm.  Both employees and corporations need to consider the type of disaster and its radius.  The radius should be considered for all resources and the supply chain for those resources.  Otherwise things may come to a halt when there is no gas left to buy at the station.

Disaster Recovery – Alternate Site Geographical Distance

There is an article that came out earlier from DRJ (Thomas L. Weems) based on a study that provides guidelines on the required geographical distance for alternate site locations.  This is good news for those performing risk assessments where this is considered vulnerability, because as far as I know FEMA has provided no specific guidelines. 

http://www.drj.com/articles/spr03/1602-02.html (registration required to view)

Ideally 105 miles point to point is the key number for all the threats listed below.  For those who don’t have access to the article below is a breakdown of the recommended geographical distances based on the threat.

NOTE: The article provides a graph so the numbers below is based on my interpretation of the graph.

Alternate Site Distance Recommendations

Hurricane:  105
Volcano:   75
Snow/Sleet/Ice:  70
Earthquake:  60
Tsunami:  52
Flood:   48
Military Installation: 45
Forest Fire:  42
Power Grid:  36
Tornado:  35
Central Office:  29
Civilian Airport: 28
None of the Above: 21

Off Site Storage Facility Distance Recommendations

Hurricane:  85
Volcano:  64
Snow/Sleet/Ice:  56
Tsunami:  45
Earthquake:  43
Flood:   43
Military Installation: 41
Forest Fire:  38
Power Grid:  36
Central Office:  25
Tornado:  24
None of the Above: 24
Civilian Airport: 22

Also the key here is to remember that the off site storage facility should accessible from the alternate site facility, which is a mistake many organizations make.

Problems and Revisions

Based on some quick research there are a few problems with the current distances above.  For example, I took three common disasters and did a quick analysis and here are the results along with some suggested changes.

Hurricane – Katrina spanned a much larger distance then 105 files proving that this distance is not adequate in a very large hurricane storm.  The article below explains that Katrina expanded over 780 miles whereas the outer regions were probably only affected by rain.  However, from my research severe damage was over about a 200 mile radius.  Therefore, I would suggest doubling the current metric to 210 miles.


Volcanoes – Although the current figure will probably be fine in most cases there is information to support that volcanoes can spread ashes up to 100 miles as displayed in the below article.  Therefore, this number should be revised to 105 miles based on the type of volcano.


Earthquake – Similar to the volcano this distance will probably be sufficient but why take the chance when there is evidence that a 7.8 earthquake ruptured 220 miles of a fault.  Therefore, this number and the definition should be clarified to be at least 60 miles from a major fault line.


BS 25999-2 Business Continuity Management

The BS 25999-2 Specification for business continuity management is out in draft form free to download and review.  My apologies for sitting on this so long and not getting it out earlier because the deadline is today for review.  Anyway it’s still good to download while you can. 


MTA NYC Explosion: Poor Business Continuity

It’s amazing that after so many disasters and crisis in NYC that the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) still can’t seem to get it correct.  The link below has a summary of the disaster scenario

NYC Steam Blast Explosion  

Anyway, so NYC is falling apart and all the people that live in Connecticut and upstate New York require transportation out of the city.  Usually the commuters take the Metro North trains.  Unfortunately the explosion is located outside of Grand Central Station where the Metro North trains depart NYC, so access to trains is limited.


More than 45 minutes after the disaster occurred MTA still did not have its continuity plan in full action.  If you dialed the MTA-Info number listed on their web site you would be out of luck.  Response – All lines are busy.  The website did not have a service alert message for commuters.


Ok phones out of service expected, except that only MTA’s phones are the issue.  Next step call 311, (NYC information hotline) maybe the NYC main government information center can help figure out how to get out of the City.  311 staff didn’t know the status of the MTA trains.  311 staff also couldn’t contact MTA because phones were still out of service at MTA.  Out on the street it was worse.  The police were controlling the area, so they were the only government staff that a person could ask a question.  The answer the police responded with was “you have to wait around”. 

I can’t recall if it was the news or 311 that mentioned going to 125th street, which is one of the locations that the Metro North trains pass while going up north.  Only problem is that train stops were not modified so it was pretty sad to say that many commuters watched trains drive right past.


This is basic, but many companies fail at crisis management, business continuity, and disaster recovery for some of the simplest items, like phone hotlines.  MTA needs to update their current plan to include:

Phone hotline that gets immediately updated with current crisis status and directions for customers (This should not be the normal MTA line it should be a crisis information hotline, or utilize the current 311 system more effectively.).

Faster update of the website for emergency situations.

Identify key contacts to improve downstream communications to the police on the street.

Re-evaluate train stops by communicating with the employees in the field to identify over capacity issues at particular stops, such as the 125 street location.

Good Practice

What did MTA do right?  They finally got the information out to the news channels and on the website, but I’m sure it was hard for people standing on the street to get the information.

More on Emergency Management and Business Continuity

FEMA has a great deal of information on Emergency Management


DRJ has a good deal of information on business continuity and disaster recovery